India and the United States signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA) on 29 August 2016 in Washington, during the visit of India’s Defence Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar to the United States. LEMOA is a facilitating agreement that establishes basic terms, conditions, and procedures for reciprocal provision of Logistic Support, Supplies, and Services between the armed forces of India and the United States. First mooted in 2003, the Agreement represents a significant step forward for Indo- US defence cooperation, indicating a clear commonality of goals and signalling closer military ties between the two countries.
With the Agreement coming into force, the militaries of the two countries can use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies. This includes food, water, billeting, transportation, petroleum, oils, lubricants, clothing, communication services, medical services, storage services, training services, spare parts and components, repair and maintenance services, calibration services, and port services on a “reimbursable basis”. Both the nations can share each others bases for various operations to include port visits, joint exercises, joint training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. Provision of logistic support, supplies, and services from one party to the other would be in return for either cash payment or the reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies, and services. Logistic support for any other cooperative efforts would however require prior mutual consent of both the parties, consistent with their respective laws, regulations and policies, on a case-to-case basis.
The Agreement does not create any obligation on either party to carry out any joint activity nor does it provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements. However, coming as it does when China is becoming increasingly assertive in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it would to an extent seek to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China. It will also assist India in undertaking humanitarian missions in conflict zones and providing disaster relief as access to America’s network of military bases around the world would be enabled. The US stands to benefit on similar lines. More importantly, it sets a precedent for other future military pacts between the two countries.
LEMOA is one of the three foundational agreements, which were announced during the visit of U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter to New Delhi in April 2016. New Delhi has chosen to proceed for the moment on LEMOA, deferring as of now the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Information and Services Cooperation (BECA). The U.S. signs foundational agreements with countries with which it has close military ties, to build basic ground work and promote interoperability between militaries by creating common standards and systems. They also guide sale and transfer of high-end technologies. The only similar case of an Indian agreement with a major power was the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in August 1971 just ahead of the Bangladesh war. While that treaty was strategic in nature, with little cooperation at the level of the two militaries, LEMOA allows for closer cooperation between the Indian and American militaries.
For the U.S., this is one part of the much larger “pivot” to Asia intended by President Obama to meet a rising China. The U.S. Navy plans to deploy 60 percent of its surface ships in the Indo-Pacific in the near future. Instead of having to build facilities virtually from the ground up, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has the benefit of simple arrangements for the tremendous Indian facilities. For India, it increases the reach of its naval assets by banking on US assets spread across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and is a step towards a new alliance with the U.S. (and possibly Japan and Australia) to countervail Chinese assertiveness in the South China sea and in the IOR. It will also be beneficial to both countries in the fight against terrorism and radical jihadi elements, thereby enhancing regional security as more supportive naval forces would be operating with closer availability of bases.